Saturday, July 23, 2011

Movies to read

I love reading screenplays.

It was one of the first online activities I ever indulged in back circa 1994 when I launched myself into the then new frontier of cyberspace. I think it may have been Drew's Scrip-o-rama, or maybe one of its antecedents. It sparked a fire inside me to learn the craft. Which lead to writing them, which lead to books, which lead to this blog I am typing at this moment.

It is a good idea for all writers to read screenplays. Most who have done both novels and screenplays will say that scripts are far more difficult. But certainly it can argued the other way. One thing screenplays will teach for sure is discipline. Scripts all about are structure, structure, structure. Scripts are all about dialouge. Scripts are all about showing and not telling, and you have to show the reader an awful lot of story and character and action with very little page room to do it.

I also love reading novelizations of movies I like. Novelizing screenplays is a fascinating adaption in reverse process that fascinates me and is another hard to master discipline. Some writers are very good at this. Alan Dean Foster comes to mind.

This novelization of the 1983 David Cronenberg film Videodrome is very well done and was credited to "Jack Martin" which is pen name for the well regarded horror writer Dennis Etchison.

Here are a few images of some movies I love to read, both published screenplays and novelizations.

Older films and classic scripts are hard to read because the formatting was different and full of camera direction. And many movies are so director intensive and visual, they just don't make for satisfying reads. Examples would be the works of Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma,  Dario Argento, Spike Lee, or Oliver Stone.

Many of my favorite screenplays are not available in published book form (that I am aware of anyway). But some I like to read (and study) regularly include Back to the Future, Falling Down, the various drafts of  Total Recall, just about anything written by Paul Schrader, Bruce Joel Rubin, Lawrence Kasdan, Quentin Tarantino,  Daniel Waters, or Shane Black.

Also James Cameron. Contrary to what his detractors say, this guy can write. He can nail a distinct character and put a fully formed visual in your head, or describe an action sequence as good as anyone I have read. One of the best movie novelizations is the Abyss by Orson Scott Card. It makes for a great double feature read along side Cameron's screenplay.

When it comes to effectively describing a sex scene, no one did it better than guilty pleasure maestro Joe Eszterhas.

This is a novelization of Basic Instinct by Richard Osborne that follows the original script tightly.

Eszterhas's profanity laced neo-noir screenplays always make for an entertaining read.

David Cronenberg is a brilliant writer and director.

This is the published screenplay of his adaption of J.G. Ballard's novel for the 1996 subversive film. Both are must reads.

Steven Spielberg is not known as a writer, but Close Encounters is an excellent screenplay ( The conspiracy aspect seems to have been inspired by an early uncredited and mostly unused draft by Paul Schrader). Spielberg also did a great job with the final screenplay to A.I., based on the work of Kubrick, Ian Watson, and the short story by Brian Aldiss.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Top three on my Fight Club list

You know the deal.

To paraphrase from the David Fincher film based on the Chuck Palahuniuk book; if you could fight anyone you wanted, who would you fight?

My top three right now on this ever changing wish list are the following:

Chris Christi, Governor of New Jersey

The entire basis of the Bull Mongoni philosophy of Gunner Star, Action Figure, and Rise of the Bull Mongoni is anti-Bully. Nothing makes my blood boil more and sends me into a barbaric rage than the mere thought of a despicable bully.

Chris Christi loves to prove what a tough guy he is by turning down federal money for the state's crumbling roads and bridges, trying to bust unions, intimidating school teachers, and cutting funds for environmental safety and public schools.

But at the same time he insists on using taxpayer funds for personal indulgences by having a Homeland Security helicopter fly him and his and wife to a little league game. He also has a tax payer funded limo drive him and his wife less that one hundreds yards.Christi loves to choke money out of education and environmetal programs, but apparently the fat fuck has no probelm using state funds rather than walk less than a hundred yards across a parking lot like us common folk.

Chris Christi can be best summed up by his response to the same question by two different people.

When a poor little lady asked him why he sends his kids to private schools and keeps cutting funds for public schools, the rotund Governor exploded with a mean-spirited nasty rage.

"None of your business," he snapped in his best Tony Soprano fake mafioso tough guy voice. He practically tore her head off.

A few days later Christi was an in studio guest on the Morning Joe program on MSNBC. Let us give a Bull Mongoni salute to Joe Scarborough who went at him right away with the same exact question.

Of course Christi cowered like a baby. He was sweet as pie and actually answered the question in a submissive tone. Funny isn't it, how when a bully is confronted with a formidable foe, they always reveal themselves to be the coward, fear-filled, baby pussies they really are.

As for the fight itself,. I would take him seriously because of his ultra obese size. A big man, even when he is  soft as a jelly donut, can always be dangerous. So I would stay outside and pick him apart with quick strikes until he was exhausted. Then move in, finish it and make him cry "kregar" which is surrender in Bull Mongoni.

Donald Trump

What can I say about Donald Trump that was not already exposed during his recent fake Presidential bid. Of all the weak things and cowering to the right Obama has done, he almost made up for it all with by destroying Trump at that Correspondence dinner.

"The Donald" may be the most self centered obnoxious born with a silver spoon fortune in his mouth arrogant prick of our time, but hey, at least we now know that he has "always had a great relationship with the blacks."

As for the fight itself, I would take great pleasure in absolutely embarrassing this phony tough guy. It would be easy to end the fight quickly. One smack in the face and Trump would squeal and sob like the pussy coward he is. But I would take my time, make the fight last, and relish every second of humiliating this real life Gunner Star/Action Figure villain.

Donald Trump is a punk.

Dylan Ratigan, The Dylan Ratigan Show MSNBC

As any Fight Club fan knows, it is not about winning the fight. It is about getting to know who you are and how can you know anything about yourself if you never lost a fight. I learned more about myself when I got my ass beat in a 1983 brawl than I ever did from any victorious street fracas.

I like Dylan Ratigan. He is non-ideological and closer to my own political and economic sensibilities than any other cable news host. He is from the real world, and the world of Wall Street where I too spent fourteen years in an industry where someone would "cut your balls off" for a nickel. Dylan knows the real reason behind all of our problems. The game is rigged and that is why we are fucked. And the only way to get unfucked is to derigg the game, which will never happen.

Dylan Ratigan is the only cable news host who tells is like it is. He is also the only cable news host who could kick my ass.

He reminds me of one of my football coaches in college. Just by watching him you know this guy has some Bull Mongoni in him. This is not a man you want to piss off. . And he looks big too. My guess is 6'4" and maybe 250lbs.

He would be formidable indeed and I would enjoy the challenge of engaging him in a balls to the wall fierce battle of flesh and fury. And I would learn something about myself in the process.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Regarding J.J.

I recently watched the Harrison Ford starring Mike Nichols directed 1991 film Regarding Henry. I remember seeing it in the theater back in 1991, being really moved by it, and including it on my Best Ten list of that year.

It was wonderful rediscovering it.  Understated direction by Mike Nichols, superb on location NYC cinematography, and one of Harrison Ford's most versatile roles where he gets to play outside of his normal stoic range and pulls it off quite nicely.

Annette Bening is terrific as his wife. Her engaging performance in this film, as her character fights to hold it together in the aftermath of a tragedy, demonstrates why she is one of the great underrated actresses of the past twenty years. She owns every scene she is in with her very presence alone in an old school movie star kind of way.

But the true heart of this film is their twelve year old daughter Rachel Turner played with Fanning like realism by Mikki Allen. For it is she who moves the emotional arc forward of not only her parents, but the movie itself. There is is also a wonderful character named Bradley who serves as the Henry's mentor is the classic Hero's Journey  fashion. He is played with charismatic warmth by the Pittsburgh born character actor Bill Dunn.

Two great joys about seeing this movie again:

One was the beautiful score by Hans Zimmer.

Zimmer is a composer best known for his uber cool Oscar nominated strains of Inception and his massive testosterone sonic blasts for movies like Crimson Tide, The Peace Keeper,  and The Dark Knight. But Regarding Henry shows a subtle, original voice that proves Zimmer can create deep emotional music as well. I will be hunting down a copy of this long out of print soundtrack to add to my collection.

The second joy was the discovery that this movie was written by none other that J.J Abrams. And it shows because the one trademark that is unmistakable in all of Abrams' work... Lost, Fringe, Star Trek, and especially Super 8... is that is expertly paced and emotionally involving.

I am officially putting Regarding Henry into my Overlooked and Underrated Hall of Fame.

There is a great cover story about J.J Abrams in the current issue of Creative Screenwriting.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Confessions of a magazine junkie

I admit I have a serious obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to magazines.

For as long as I can remember, the colorful racks of newsstands were like crack to me. I spent many days of my youth, and adulthood, roaming for hours among the strategically placed glossy covers of four color crack. Packages designed to lure me in with the promise of something new, or exciting, or secretive, or sexier than anything I had going on in the mundane banality of real life.

And lure me in they did.

I never was one to stand there lumbering over a newsstand  like a derelict (or in today's world sitting in a Barnes and Noble). To me that was somehow cheating the writers and photographers and illustrators who worked so hard to create the crack I so desperately craved. If I see a magazine I like, I simple must possess it. I must take it home where I can drink in the articles and relish the imagery and artwork over and over to satisfy my fix.

If I were asked the infamous Katie Couric question "what magazines and newspapers do you read", unlike a certain thin-skinned, vapid, vindictive, ignorant, fraudulent, greedy, hate mongering, lying, former half-Governor, I would have plenty to say.

Many of the publications I have obessed over are no longer around such as the Frederick S. Clarke edited Cinefantastique, by far the best genre magazine ever created. Others are so dry and technical...The Economist, American Cinematographer, The New England Journal of Medicine...they would bore most sane people to death.

Bottom line, the magazines a person reads reveal alot about who they really are. And in my case, that might not be such a good thing.

Below are a few of the more colorful magazines I have sitting at arms length from this keyboard right now.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Top five most moving Spielberg moments

Damn you Spielberg.  You got me again with that War Horse trailer.

There is just something about the way Steven Spielberg directs, or more specifically the combination of Steven Spielberg imagery and John Williams music. It seduces you. It calls to you. It draws you in and somehow bypasses all of the built up cynical armor in normally cold-hearted bastards like me.

It cuts right to the main artery of unfiltered raw emotion.

I vividly recall seeing E.T. for the third time in 1982. It was at the end of football camp my freshman year and I was with a group of players. These were testosterone stoked freaks, seriously tough guys. And let’s just say the film worked quite well. Everyone in the theater that night was as emotionally involved with a movie as I have seen before or since.

The bearded one’s career has had several peaks followed by periods where it looked like his best work was far behind him and his skills were on the wane like a Hall of Fame quarterback creeping up on 40 years of age.

The most recent such peak for me was his creative explosion of 2001-2002.  He directed one of the most fascinating films of all time, the deeply moving (and deeply polarizing) A.I. Artificial Intelligence. Spielberg followed that up with two more masterworks the next year; Minority Report, arguably one of the best science fiction film since Blade Runner, and the highly enjoyable, breezy Catch Me If You Can.

Then came a serious decline with three big letdowns. Dakota Fanning was fantastic in War of the Worlds, but the whole 9-11 parable felt forced and phoney. I hated the Tim Robbins character. And the movie has one of the most brutal blatant ripoff visual effect set pieces I have ever seen, a sequence that comes right of the Abyss almost shot for shot.

Next was the pretentious Oscar bait, Munich. Artificially arty and dull. And the less said about Indy 4 the better.

The majestic War Horse trailer was such a revelation to me because I had written Spielberg off years ago and figured the closest thing I would ever get to experiencing Spielberg magic again would be via proteges such as J.J. Abrams in homages like the superb Super 8.

But as soon as I hit play and that trailer started and the sounds of John Williams reached inside me as the imagery unfolded, I began to feel something. Something from the past. Something wonderful. I began to think that maybe the old Spielberg magic was still alive after all.
We will find out in December if War Horse can live up to the promising trailer and the legacy of its legendary director. In the meantime, let’s take a look back into some iconic emotional moments of the man who once said, "I dream for a living."

My top five most moving Spielberg directed moments.

Over the Moon - E.T. 1982

The first time E.T. lifts Elliot and his bike into the sky, it becomes their moment and ours, and one that will live on forever.

Signing - Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977

The spectacular finale when the Francois Truffaut character finally gets to realize his lifelong dream and stand before beings from another world; it feels like witnessing a religious event.

If you were there on that Thanksgiving weekend in November of 1977, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Cadillacs of the Skies - Empire of the Sun 1987

A young Christian Bale running across the rooftop of the prison camp trying to reach up into the air and touch God.

I get chills just thinking about the first time I saw this scene.

Reunion - The Color Purple 1985

When two long lost sisters finally re-unite with a beautifully mounted dolly shot set to the heartbreaking Sisters theme (by Quincy Jones in John Williams mode), the film gets an orgasmic emotional release that only Spielberg pull off.

The film garnered 11 Academy Award nominations but a spiteful Academy denied one to Spielberg. Still might be the worst Best Director snub in Oscar history

Resurrection - A.I. 2001

The combination of Kubrick's cold existential intellectualistism and Spielberg's emotional spiritualism makes for a facinating experience.

The entire final 20 minute act of A.I. is among the most deeply affecting pieces of cinema I have ever experienced. Haunting and achingly sad.